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Pakistan’s National Assembly Becomes a Warzone

by Newsweek Pakistan

Special Assistant to the P.M. Ali Nawaz Awan shouting abuse in a now-viral video from the National Assembly proceedings. YouTube

Opposition and treasury lawmakers clash during speech of the Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif

Pakistan’s National Assembly took on the appearance of a battleground on Tuesday as opposition and treasury benches clashed—verbally and physically—during the post-budget address of Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif.

At the onset of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) president’s speech, government lawmakers started trying to drown him out with loud sloganeering, jeers and whistles, including chants of “chor, chor” (thief) and daku, daku (robber). The situation worsened when PTI MNAs tried to surround Sharif’s dais, prompting opposition members to likewise gather around him in a protective circle.

Sharif sought to continue his speech, questioning details of the budget, until the shouting reached a point upon which National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser announced a brief recess to allow the situation to calm down. However, this had no effect, with the treasury benches continuing their yelling as soon as the session resumed. Despite three adjournments, the situation could not be brought under control, with treasury benches repeatedly refusing to listen to Qaiser’s urging to exercise calm.

When security staff at the National Assembly attempted to prevent the treasury lawmakers from surrounding Sharif’s dais, they started throwing books and budget documents at the opposition, who responded in kind. Special Assistant to the P.M. Ali Nawaz Awan can be seen in a now-viral video clip, screaming obscenities at opposition lawmakers and attempting to punch them.

The video shows a woman lawmaker trying to pull the PTI MNA away from the group of legislators who were shoving each other. However, he pushed her aside and threw a booklet at a PMLN leader and continued shouting angrily at him. In a statement issued on Twitter, he claimed he was merely “responding” to aggression by the PMLN.

“A video clip of mine has gone viral today on social media,” he said. “However, the other side of the picture can clearly be seen in this video. The PMLN lawmakers started abusing and shoving our MNAs,” he said, adding that “both sides” should be observed.

Other videos of the scuffle show federal ministers Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Fawad Chaudhry, Zartaj Gul, and Shafqat Mahmood standing by their seats and slamming budget documents on their benches. Another minister, Ali Amin Gandapur, could also be seen arguing with Opposition lawmakers. Pakistanis on social media have questioned if this indicates a policy of the government to take all steps necessary to prevent the opposition leader from delivering his speech.

Adding fuel to this belief was an earlier declaration of Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry in which he had claimed the government would not allow either Sharif or Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari to deliver speeches without first receiving a “written guarantee” that they would not shout any slogans during speeches of Prime Minister Imran Khan or his ministers.

Parliamentary Secretary for Law Maleeka Bokhari was hit by a flying object, with her eye being injured in the process. In addition, some other lawmakers complained that they been bruises during the scuffle.

The information minister, in a posting on Twitter, claimed the clash had been provoked by PMLN MNA Ali Gohar Baloch using derogatory language against the government. “The fight started because of these slogans issued by Ali Gohar Baloch,” he said, adding that the “young lawmakers” of the PTI had become angered and started throwing budget copies at the opposition.

Speaker inquiry

After adjourning the proceedings, the speaker announced on Twitter that he had ordered an inquiry into the events of the day, adding that “members using un-parliamentary language will not be allowed to enter the house tomorrow (Wednesday).” He condemned the use of un-parliamentary and indecent language by both opposition and treasury lawmakers.

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